Monthly updates from Laura Farris
MP for Newbury
Welcome from Laura
I want to start by thanking each and every one of you, every person who has followed the lockdown rules, every community volunteer, every parent attempting to home school their child and everyone who has their bit, no matter how small, for your efforts in fighting this virus. April has been a difficult month for us all with a solid month of lockdown taking its toll, but our hard work is paying off and the lockdown’s end is in sight. I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response of so many of you and the time and energy you have all spent on supporting those most vulnerable and in need.
As always, if I can be of any assistance you can always reach me at email@example.com
COVID-19 community response:
Over past four weeks, I have been checking-in with many of the wonderful community groups and hubs who are working hard to coordinate our response to COVID-19 and offer assistance to those most vulnerable and in need of help. I have dropped in and spoken to volunteers from East Ilsley to Hungerford about the amazing work they are doing. I have been blown away and humbled by the amazing community spirit across West Berkshire and each and I am constantly reminded of why I am so privileged to represent this area in Parliament.
To celebrate our community’s champions, those going above and beyond during these difficult times, I have launched the ‘West Berkshire Community Champions Award’. Each week I will be collecting nominations from across the constituency and announcing two winners a week to join us in the House of Commons for a special event to say thank you (when all of this is over). You can nominate a community champion by emailing me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you need any assistance, you can find contact information for West Berkshire Community Hub here.
I continue to monitor and support front-line workers’ access to PPE. I have continued my regular conversations with the major general hospitals nearby (who are providing the intensive care for COVID-19 patients) and the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust both of which are sufficiently well-stocked. I have been speaking to front-line staff at the West Berkshire Community Hospital in Thatcham to listen to their concerns about accessing PPE. I will continue to listen to all concerns and raise them anonymously on behalf of any member of staff who is concerned, and where necessary raise any issue to the Department of Health. I have also been offering my support to local care homes and whilst there has been no shortage of PPE reported to me in those settings and I will continue to ensure staff and residents have the equipment they need.
April saw the launch of many of the Government’s unprecedented package of financial support. I have been working to assist many local businesses access grants and the business rates team at the Council have now confirmed to me that all eligible businesses have received their grants. As I write the Government has just announced a new Bounce-Back loan scheme specifically for small businesses which, In other respects, fall through the gaps. A total of £617 million has been made available which will be rolled out to local authorities over the course of the week. Most Importantly, the Council will have a discretion as to who they award the grants to and I will update my Facebook page and website with further details when they come In.
Whilst the Government grant schemes cover many local and independent businesses, I recognise there are some, many of whom providing vital local services who are excluded - and have specifically had dentists and other categories of small business brought to my attention. , I have taken up their cases directly with the Chancellor to urge him to help these businesses out, especially as many of us will still need their services as we leave the lockdown.
I have also written to the Treasury and the Department for Education to express my support for nurseries and childcare settings, urging them to reconsider changes to how much money these businesses can claim for furloughed employees. Furthermore, I have made additional and continued representations to the Treasury on behalf of small business directors, those self-employed who supplement their wages with dividends payments and those whose income is marginally above the threshold for Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
The way Parliament has conducted its business has undergone an historic transformation as MPs are scrutinising the Government by logging into Zoom and speaking to the Chambers via vast screens positioned around the edge.
I have taken advantage of this new technology by asking questions on behalf of West Berkshire and have particularly pressed Ministers on strategies and opportunities of emerging from lockdown. I asked a question to the Minister of Sport about supporting "behind-closed-doors" horse-racing meetings when conditions are relaxed, which allows our much loved racing industry to resume without the risk of large crowds. You can watch it here. I have also asked a question to the Minister for Clean Growth about putting renewable energy infrastructure at the heart of our recovery, which you can watch here.
The Home Affairs Select Committee, on which I sit, published two reports on domestic violence and supporting vulnerable children (click here to read) during the lockdown. We also scrutinised the Home Secretary at the end of April, covering topics such border control, quarantine arrangements and immigration and detention. You can watch my question to the Home Secretary here.
Finally, I had the honour to speak (in Parliament) in the Domestic Abuse Bill to support this incredibly important piece of legislation as well as a cross-party amendment to end the ‘rough sex defence’, which has robbed so many women of the dignity and justice they deserve. You can watch my speech to the House here.